Chough report: October 2018

A pair of choughs have been foraging at this site in Corbière (can you spot them?) Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

The choughs continued their travels around the Island this October with reports from Corbière, Noirmont and Wolf’s Lair.

Corbière lighthouse. Photo by Liz Corry.

Bo and Mary returned to Corbière this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

There have been several reports from La Pulente, the south end of St Ouen’s Bay. However, this may be a case of misidentification. This end of the bay often attracts large numbers of crows due to the rich pickings available at low tide. In amongst those are another corvid relative, the jackdaw. See our guide to corvid identification here

As the tide goes out at La Pulente the birds come in to feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Jackdaws have a distinctly different call to crows. They are not as prolific in Jersey as they are in the UK. Understandably, if you are not used to hearing the calls of jackdaws and choughs together you could easily misidentify the two species. Of course there is one obvious way of telling the difference; one has a red bill, the other doesn’t. Not easy to spot when driving – most of the reports came from birders in cars.

Jackdaw calls are often misidentified as chough calls by Jersey residents. Photo by Liz Corry.

The difficult thing with all this is that birds can travel around the coast of Jersey much faster than humans. The birders out recording autumn migration numbers will attest to that. It is quite feasible that choughs were at Pulente, but nipped round the corner to Corbière before I had chance to follow-up the report.

View of La Pulente at the south end of St Ouen’s Bay (bottom left) and Corbière on the southwest corner of Jersey. Image from Google Earth.

End of British Summer Time…and the choughs’ travel plans?

When the clocks changed at the end of October so too did the attendance record at the aviary. We are now seeing more choughs at the supplemental feed. Forty-one being the highest on the eve of the clocks going back. That included Earl and Xaviour who have been living out at Plémont all year.

The increase in numbers is likely due to the cold snap and the reduction in wild food resources. Leatherjackets, a chough favourite, emerged as cranefly and spread their own wings removing themselves from the menu. The choughs reliance on the free food at the aviary will likely increase as we go into winter.

A leatherjacket casing in a coastal garden. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs appear to be spending more time foraging around Devil’s Hole and Mourier Valley. At least when the whistle blows for food at 3pm, the majority of the choughs fly in from that direction. They could be fooling us. Probably all are at La Pulente until 2.50pm!

Replacing lost rings

The return of certain choughs to the supplemental feed has made it easier to see who has lost which rings. A catch-up of birds on 28th October attempted to correct this. It took a while to trap the birds in the aviary; the hatches had seized up again despite a check the day before.

It was also a lot harder now there are so many. We managed to lock in about two-thirds of the group and went about the process of hand-netting individuals to check rings.

Bird Keeper Bea Detnon and a very compliant Mauve waiting in line for new leg rings. Photo by Hannah Clarke.

There are several birds we knew needed rings such as Green who had lost all but his original metal ring. Then there were others like Mauve who, on closer inspection, had broken rings creating sharp, hazardous, edges.

All the birds we caught in the nets were weighed and checked over prior to release. There were twelve who got locked in the aviary that we didn’t need.

In amongst this last group was Xaviour who has been missing her orange rings since the start of summer. Unfortunately, she evaded capture. Clearly living out at Plémont has improved her flying skills in close quarters. Since we had already spent an hour catching and processing everyone we called it a day to avoid excessive stress on the group.

Five others still require ring replacements. Weather permitting; we can do that in November.

Feeding stations

A new design of feeder to ensure the choughs get food and nothing else does. Photo by Liz Corry.

Work on the new and improved magpie-proof feeders continues. A quick trip home to see family turned into a research and development trip for the choughs. B&M Bargains, Hobbycraft, Aldi, Lidl….ah the joys of mainland shopping…all threw up some new ideas.

The latest and most successful is a rather unusual choice – flower urns. With slight modification to the container depth, they make the perfect magpie-proof feeder. At the cost of £5.99 for two, salvaged wood and paint (hence the colour choice), they are relatively cheap and easy to make.

To end on a non-bird related note…

At the start of October, the waters around Sorel were graced with the presence of bottle-nosed dolphins. Clearly visible from the cliffpath, the small pod followed alongside a Jersey Seafaris rib as passengers toured the north coast. I tried to capture an image of both choughs and dolphins, but, let’s face it, with my long lens focused on the dolphins; the choughs never stood a chance.

Jersey Seafaris tour joined by bottle-nosed dolphins at Sorel Point. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Birds in the Channel Islands: annual update

For several years now we have compiled a combined list of all birds recorded in the Channel Islands thanks to the recorders from Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. Each year we’ve seen the lists grow longer and the order the species are listed in keep changing. Today we launch the updated list, updated to the end of 2017 (the Islands don’t review any year’s birds until after the next one starts). Download the list here.

The updated list includes four (well, five) new species, three of which, excitingly, were recorded on two islands each: marsh sandpiper (Alderney and Jersey), (American) royal tern (Guernsey and Alderney) and Iberian chiffchaff (Alderney and Jersey). In fact, the royal tern became quite a celebrity in Guernsey, Alderney and even in Sussex. The tern went just about everywhere. Except Jersey that is. Editor’s note its been around in 2018. And still not been to Jersey!

The other obvious feature for regular readers of this or any other bird list is the changes to the order, relationships and even the birds’ scientific names. Many of us grew up with long held understanding of the order we put the birds in (start with divers and end with crows) and how they were related (divers and grebes, herons and storks). However, new technologies have made it much easier to look closely at every species and get a much better idea of who’s who and where they sit in the order. Wildfowl are first, and not just because they’re very cool but because they and the gamebirds are not that closely related to every other bird. And hawks and falcons aren’t related? No, and strangely that split should have been obvious before.

The list actually includes one, or two, other new species. That goose formerly known as the bean goose has become two species: taiga bean goose and tundra bean goose. Luckily for the list compilers, the Islands’ ornithologists had in recent years recorded which of the two bean geese, then considered the lower rank of subspecies, were being seen. The split, and upgrade to full species status, wasn’t hard to fit in. If everything was always so easy. Our other new bird was a Caspian gull. This eastern version of the herring gull was once considered just herring gull until analysis found that it was quite distinct. Only unlike the geese it doesn’t always look distinct and takes a real enthusiast to pick one out of the flock. Luckily this one’s finder and photographer not only knows his gulls but got a little assist in that it was ringed!

And the totals? Well, overall we’ve recorded 376 species with Jersey still edging in front with 335. So enjoy the new list, tick off your sightings and try to fill the gaps in each Island’s list. And play ‘what will be Alderney’s 300th species’ (I’m going with little bunting). Why not check out the gaps in the list and try to fill them (we’d recommend seawatching in Sark first). But remember, if you visit the islands please send in your records to the relevant recorder – they’re all there on the list. 

A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands (updated to December 2017) can be downloaded here

 

 

Chough report: May 2018

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By Liz Corry

Spoiler alert! Ronez Quarry found the first hatched egg shell of the year on 23rd May. However, there are so many more things to report about from May that we will leave that golden nugget of information for later.

Spreading their wings

Reports continue to come in from both the south-west and north-west corners of the island. The pair roosting in St Ouen’s Bay repeatedly foraged around Corbière Lighthouse, the desalination plant, and the sand dunes. And they are just the places we know about. I suspect they have taken a cheeky gander at the golf courses that lie to the north and south of their roost.

Choughs foraging by the old radio tower at Corbiere. Photo by Liz Corry.

Mary and Bo searching for found near the lighthouse. Photo by Liz Corry.

Looking at the hard granite around Corbière you would think it slim pickings on the menu for the chough pair. However, if you watch closely they are quite adept at finding tasty morsels. Take a look at this video for example. Not entirely sure what it is they have found, but obviously in high demand.

There is plenty of food on offer closer to the release site. Thanks to a local resident sending in a photo, we found a group of choughs hanging out at a ‘secret’ spot behind Sorel Farm. A horse field currently vacant except for rabbits, pheasant, swooping house martins, and aforementioned choughs. Short pasture, dung, and very little disturbance. Idyllic. For choughs at least.

This is a video of a few in a different horse field by the quarry.

The pair at Plémont are still going strong. They abandoned their nest in a sea cave and relocated to a crevice outside. We have not seen them at Sorel for a very long time. They appear to be finding plenty of food where they are. As the swifts start their summer residency in the same area we could be in for some interesting interactions. It is certainly an impressive sight to see the acrobatic flights of both species together.

Chough exchange

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On 22nd May four choughs from Jersey Zoo were caught up and transported to Paradise Park as part of our animal collection exchange. The birds travelled by boat in the Zoo van driven by our Head of Operations and a senior mammal keeper.

None of the choughs hold a valid license.

Gwinny, one of the four, has been with us at the Zoo since the very beginning. However, she failed to find a partner who shared her chick rearing aspirations. Maybe she will find her Mr Right in Cornwall.

On the return trip the van was loaded up with four different choughs, two Namaqua doves and a Madagascar partridge (pear tree to follow). They travelled on the freight ferry which meant a 4am, repeat 4AM!!, arrival in Jersey – a fog covered Jersey to boot.

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Two new arrivals to a fog bound Jersey at sunrise (not that you can tell). Photo by Liz Corry.

Two of the choughs headed to Sorel where they will spend a month in quarantine acclimatising to life on the coast. We moved Han Solo, Jersey Zoo’s male, to the aviary the day before they arrived.

All three looked to be in good condition. We discovered Han Solo had a new claw growing through suggesting damage at an earlier date. He clearly has not been in any discomfort so no need to treat him.

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A new claw growing out after previous damage resulted in loss of the old claw. Photo by Liz Corry.

The three boys will be housed separately to the free-ranging choughs during quarantine with opportunity to socialise (between ‘bars’) at feed times. In fact the first meeting between the two groups happened within minutes of reaching Sorel. Lots of shouting and displaying from the outside group at first thought to be directed at the newbies. After ten minutes of observations it became apparent they were just after the food locked away inside!

If all goes to plan the two males from Paradise Park and Han Solo from the Zoo will be released at the start of July.

In case any of you were curious as to the names of Han’s new friends…Chewbacca and Skywalker of course.

solo

 Let the judging commence

Capture

Judges visited Jersey’s short-listed contenders for this year’s Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards on May 23rd.

Ronez Quarry nominated our chough project for the work we do in collaboration with them to monitor and protect the wild population.

The quarry has been home to the choughs since the first soft-release back in 2013. This season we had at least eight pairs trying to raise chicks in the quarry.

Winners will be announced on 27th June. There are several awards up grabs with a total prize fund of £3,750. One of the awards is a People’s Choice Award worth £500. Social media voting will begin in June – get clicking!

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Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards judges at Ronez Quarry. 23rd May 2018. Photo by Liz Corry.

If we are fortunate enough to receive any money it would go towards providing an educational experience for school groups visiting the quarry. A chance to learn about natural resources, coastal conservation, and of course the choughs. Any remaining money would go towards covering the costs involved in ringing and DNA sexing chicks (approximately £18 per chick).

Ronez quarry viewpoint image

Ronez Quarry

Wild nest updates

If all goes well then Han Solo and the boys will be joined by several wild-hatched fledglings in July. The day the judges visited the quarry was the same day we discovered the first chicks of 2018 had hatched.

Toby Caberet had found hatched egg shell near one of the known nest sites. Using a handheld endoscope camera we were able to confirm a record number of four chicks in a single nest.

Four recently hatched chough chicks in a nest at the quarry. Photo taken under licence by Toby Caberet.

This is amazing news as this particular pair are first time parents. The chicks are very young. They have a further six weeks before leaving the nest and, as we learnt last year, that still doesn’t guarantee they will make it to Sorel. As long as the parents can find enough insects they stand a good chance.

All the more reason to rejoice in the next bit of news.

(St) Mary had a little lamb, and St John and St Peter…

This month the Manx loaghtan lambs were moved from the farm in St Catherine’s to the grazing site at Sorel. They are now old enough to roam the cliff tops. Still very vulnerable. Bleating can be heard far and wide from ‘lost’ lambs whose mothers are two feet away hidden in the gorse. Please remember to close gates and keep dogs under control. Any mountain bikers, be alert! It might not be a brown rock on the path that you are about to ride over.

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Ewes and their lambs are now out roaming free at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

A new grazing site in St Peter’s Valley has become home to another flock of Manx loaghtan sheep brought in to graze the meadows and hopefully improve biodiversity in the area. You can see them if you visit Quetivel Mill, a National Trust property open every Monday and Tuesday (10am-4pm).

Lambs are now out and about at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

And finally, we couldn’t sign off without including the following picture taken by Mick Dryden at Sorel Point. A rare spring migrant to the Island, a honey-buzzard, flying alongside one of our choughs. I bet that was a sight no one predicted they would see five years ago!

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Honey-buzzard and chough at Sorel Point. Photo by Mick Dryden.

Shaping positive engagements with urban birds

Robin (2). Photo by Mick DrydenFrom BTO

Some bird species provide cultural services, being aesthetically pleasing and having behaviours that people find interesting to watch. Others provide disservices (e.g. gulls, pigeons and corvids) negative for well-being. By documenting how the abundance and richness of species in these two groups correlates with human population density it was apparent that socio-economically deprived areas support low ratios of birds to people, particularly of cultural service species. These results inform management of green space, and provision of feeding and nesting sites, to promote positive interactions between birds and people within urbanised landscapes.

Herring gull (3). Photo by Mick Dryden

Working in collaboration with the University of Exeter, and funded by NERC, researchers carried out extensive bird surveys within an urban area, centred on the towns of Milton Keynes, Luton and Bedford, as part of a wider project investigating urban ecosystem services. These provided measures of the abundance and richness of bird species within both the cultural services (35 species) and disservices (nine species) groups. The research team was able to look at the human population by using data from the 2011 National Census, and to assess socio-economic status by using information published by the Office of National Statistics. Since bird diversity is strongly associated with the structure and availability of urban green space, the team also had to factor in the green space present within the study area.

Analyses revealed that the abundance of cultural service species increased with human population density but peaked at c.1,100 people per 500m x 500m grid tile. The abundance also increased with the proportion of urban green space. Interestingly, the species richness of cultural service birds decreased with human population density but increased with percentage green space. There was a positive linear relationship between the abundance and richness of cultural disservice species and both human population density and the availability of green space.

When the researchers mapped how the abundance of service and disservice birds co-varied with human population density, they found that the two groups of birds showed distinctly different spatial patterns. Service species were most abundant in areas of medium housing density – the suburbs – while disservice birds were most abundant in areas of dense housing, such as those around urban centres.

Skylark (3). Photo by Mick Dryden

While these different patterns are not a direct consequence of human population density per se, they probably result from spatial differences in urban form, the pattern and management of urban green space, levels of disturbance and the availability of resources, all of which are known to vary along socio-economic gradients. This underlines that people living in different parts of the urban landscape are likely to experience different relationships with wild birds, with the human communities in socially deprived areas exposed to more species with negative behaviours than wealthier communities. A consequence of this is that the increased frequency of negative interactions experienced by these people is likely to shape their connection with nature and support for the conservation of the natural world in a negative manner.

The study identifies opportunities to deliver management approaches to counter these unfavourable relationships. Investment in urban green space and its management for cultural service birds is one obvious option, but there are also opportunities at the householder level, through practices such as wildlife gardening. Such householder level approaches can be of wider benefit because their beneficial effects are likely to increase the abundance and richness of cultural service birds in neighbouring gardens, meaning that the actions of a small number of people can provide health benefits for the wider community.

Download the paper Covariation in urban birds providing cultural services or disservices and people here

Helping hedgehogs 

Hedgehog. Photo by Miranda collettJersey Hedgehog Preservation GroupFrom Jersey Hedgehog Preservation Group

Jersey Hedgehog Preservation Group have produced a new leaflet Helping hedgehogs 2018 which can be downloaded here

Hedgehog Highways

One of the main reasons that hedgehog populations are declining is that they often cannot get into our gardens to find food or shelter. A recent report has shown that in urban areas of the UK where people are linking their gardens the decline in numbers is slowing down. It might help our hedgehogs in Jersey if we followed their example. The first thing you can do is to make a 13 x 13cm hole in or under your fence or wall and link your garden with your neighbours to create a Hedgehog Highway. Hedgehogs really are the gardener’s friend and will eat a lot of your garden pests, like slugs and snails. Hedgehogs can roam about one mile in a night. You can register your highway and become a Hedgehog Champion.

Jacksons Fencing have hedgehog friendly gravel boards for their fences with pre-cut holes, in stock in Jersey at JF(T)U Ltd

Hedgehog gravel board. Photo by Jacksons Fencing

Hedgehog friendly garden

Hedgehogs in the Twiglets. Photo by Dru BurdonGo wild

  • Leave a wild area to encourage insects and invertebrates – great hedgehog food!
  • Build a pile of brushwood or logs for hedgehogs to nest in
  • Remove hedgehog hazards
  • Be as organic as you can. Slug pellets kill hedgehogs and other garden chemicals can harm them too
  • Compost your garden waste rather than burn it.

Never set fire to a bonfire without checking it first.  Always move it before you set it alight. A hedgehog will see your garden rubbish as a lovely place to nest, with all too often tragic consequences.

Take care with garden tools, check before you cut, strim or fork your compost heap

Water dangers

If it’s there, they will fall into it:

  • Please cover your drains.
  • Garden ponds – provide escape ramps of stones, rough wood or wire netting.
  • Swimming pools – rigid plastic mesh secured on the edge and trailed in the water makes a good ladder. Hedgehogs are very good swimmers and climbers, BUT they need to be offered a way out.

Netting, string and litter

Hedgehog in 4 pack rings. Photo by Dru BurdonNetting, garden string and other litter can all be hazards for hedgehogs.

  • Store nets safely in the shed when not in use
  • If using nets to grow peas or beans, leave a 13cm gap underneath
  • If using nets for covering low crops such as strawberries, pull taut and cut off surplus
  • Keep your garden clear of litter. Think hedgehog!

Food and water

Put out cat or dog food and water especially in dry weather. Place the food under a box with a 13cm square hole cut in the side to prevent other creatures getting to the food before the hedgehogs arrive.

Does this hedgehog need help?

Hedgehogs are nocturnal so if you see one lying out of its nest in the daytime, there may be something wrong, even if you cannot see any injury. Please pick it up with gloves and put it in a deep box and phone the Jersey Hedgehog Preservation Group on 01534 734340 as soon as you can. However, in the summer if you see a large hedgehog walking with purpose across your garden while it is still light, it may well be a mother with young, so please leave her alone and offer her some cat or dog food and water to help her produce milk to feed her babies.

Read the report The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 here 

Hedgehog Mr Payn facing front. Photo by Dru Burdon

Another first for Jersey – Lesser horseshoe bat

Lesser horseshoe bat (Jersey). Photo by Ani BinetFrom Annyctalus Ecology

We are delighted to announce that we have confirmed another new bat species for Jersey. A single Rhinolophus hipposideros, or Lesser horseshoe bat, was spotted during our final hibernation survey of the winter on Sunday 4th March 2018. This bat species can be found on the nearby Cherbourg Peninsula, as well as in south west England, and Wales, but it is a first for Jersey.

Lesser horseshoe bat (UK). Photo by Daniel Whitby

Lesser horseshoe bats are notoriously difficult to record on bat detectors due to having a very high frequency, directional call. A single file containing echolocation calls which appeared to be of this species was previously recorded at the same site in September 2016, but despite numerous surveys of the site, both visual and using capture techniques and almost constant deployment of static bat detectors at the site since June 2017 no further records of the species were made, until now.

Horseshoe bats are listed under Annex II of the Habitat Directive due to their rarity and specific habitat requirements. In most areas horseshoe bat summer colonies are usually found in the roofs of larger rural houses and stable blocks offering a range of roof spaces. They are very shy and require dark vegetated corridors in which to travel as well as woodland areas in which to feed.

Horseshoe bats are very distinctive in appearance and are the only UK bat species which hang freely when roosting. If you have seen horseshoe bats within your property, or elsewhere in the Island we would love to hear from you in order to allow us to learn more about this species. We would also welcome any information about other bat roosts! Please send your roost information to us at ani@jerseybatgirl.co.uk or to the Jersey Bat Group on enquiries@jerseybatgroup.org

Alderney becomes Britain’s 20th Bird Observatory

The Alderney Bird Observatory. Alderney ABO conference 8-9 October 2016. Photo by HGYoung (46)From Rare Bird Alert and Alderney Bird Observatory

Britain’s birds are amongst the best monitored animals in the world, and it’s just about to get even better as a brand new bird observatory joins the nineteen others that are scattered around our coast.

Alderney Bird Observatory (ABO) received official accreditation at a recent meeting of the Bird Observatories Council (BOC), a gathering of all of the bird observatories, making it the twentieth in the country. Ranging from Fair Isle, Shetland, in the north to Alderney, Channel Islands, in the south, Britain’s bird observatories have kept an eye on the comings and goings of our birds since the first observatory Skokholm, Wales, opened in 1933 – these unbroken observations make them amongst the largest bird datasets in the world.

Alderney Bird Observatory

CI bird ringers in action. Alderney ABO conference 8-9 October 2016. Photo by HGYoung (23)

Many firsts for Britain have been found and documented at Bird Observatories but it is the day-to day observations of birds on the move that are the most important, birds making their way in and out of Britain on their migrations from far-flung destinations. Since the 1960s several of these have changed the timing of their migration as a response to a changing climate. The swallow now arrives back in the UK on average fifteen days earlier than it did in the 60s, and the sand martin over twenty days earlier, whilst for the cuckoo the timing hasn’t really changed. It is vital that we keep an eye out for changing patterns in the future if we are to fully understand the pressures that many of our birds might face and how we might help those that are showing declines.

Royal tern. Photo by Mick Dryden

John Horton, Warden at Alderney Bird Observatory, said, “It is such a privilege to be the first Warden of Alderney Bird Observatory and to know that the work we carry out here will make a real difference to our understanding of the birds that both live here, or pass through on migration. I look forward to ABO adding to the long-term observations gathered by my colleagues around Britain and Ireland. It is testament to the hard work of lots of volunteers that we have got this far and to them a huge thank you.”

John continues the story on the ABO Blog

Firecrest (2). Photo by Mick DrydenHaving got to where we are, many have asked; How has this all come about ? Well, in the autumn of 2015 The Alderney Wildlife Trust advertised a job vacancy for a Bird Recorder. The job description and requirements, however, went some way towards those required for a Bird Observatory warden. After doing a little homework and with particular consideration to Alderney’s geographical location that appeared ideally situated for attracting migrating birds, during an initial enquiry phone call with the Trust manager I suggested Alderney might consider setting up a bird observatory.  The immediate response was that an island resident and native Channel Islander Paul Veron was very much in tune with this idea and would be delighted to hear this.  I was asked to come back to the Trust with a proposal of how this might progress. It transpired that Paul (our observatory chairman) and I had a lot in common, both mad keen birders from our formative years, we both grew up visiting and staying at established British Bird Observatories and we are both experienced bird ringers.

Meeting Paul and his partner Catherine who accommodated Cathy and I for a longAlderney ABO conference 8-9 October 2016. Photo by HGYoung (41) weekend first island visit in November 2015, was a major factor in Cathy and I deciding to move to Alderney from Kent in March 2016. These early discussions brought about a 2-year observatory establishing pilot project supported by the Wildlife Trust, its primary remit to try and achieve bird observatory accreditation status from the Bird Observatories Council. Local interest and support for this project from the outset was exceptional and largely through Paul’s contacts we soon had a very experienced and capable bird observatory committee driving things forward.

We won’t pretend it has been plain sailing over the last two years, but thanks to the States of Alderney and to too many people to mention here (and of course to the phenomenal numbers of birds we have recorded) Alderney is now officially positioned amongst the ornithological elite. Such is international interest in birds and in this project that the ABO blog is now read by people in over 100 countries worldwide. We are delighted that the opportunity is now open to you all to visit us and stay at our bird observatory, itself situated in a cracking spot for observing visual migration, all within the unique location of the walls of a 1,900 year old roman fort. Alderney Bird Observatory opens on 1st April 2018, bookings to stay with us can be made on this site. Thank you to all those involved in getting us so far so quickly, and in particular to all those who believed in this project taking up Alderney Bird Observatory membership, your continued support has made the difference and remains invaluable.  We hope to see you all soon.

Alderney ABO conference 8-9 October 2016. Photo by HGYoung (31)

Once again it’s time to count the birds in the garden

Blue tit (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

Jersey’s Great Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 3rd and 4th February 2018

Nothing predicts the coming spring like the announcement of the annual Action for Wildlife, Birds On The Edge and Jersey Evening Post Great Garden Birdwatch. Of course, nothing prepares us for a weekend of atrocious weather more than the announcement of the Great Garden Birdwatch! Mind you, the weather throughout January was so awful that things couldn’t be any worse. Surely? This year we’re asking everyone to count the birds in their garden on either Saturday 3rd of February or the following day, Sunday 4th of February.

Action for Wildlife

JEP logo

Whatever the weather the birds will be there in the garden and they’ll need us. We’ve seen some of our favourites declining over recent years. Blue tits, greenfinches and starlings are now very rare visitors. Even house sparrows aren’t the familiar sight in every garden that they once were. Notes on previous years surveys have detailed the fate of different bird populations in Jersey gardens so please have a look at 2016 and 2017.

Of course, as we’ve shown in the past, some birds do buck the trend and are doing ok. Our winter blackcap population, different from the birds here in summer and pretty well absent from the countryside over winter, seem to love it here. And wood pigeons aren’t showing signs of deserting us any day soon.

Please, this year as before, take a few minutes to watch the birds in your garden on the Saturday or the Sunday and fill out the simple form here and email it in to us at Birds On The Edge. The more completed surveys the better and the stronger the data becomes in showing us all the state of our favourite birds and the importance of our gardens in safeguarding them.

Robin (5). Photo by Mick Dryden

How to enter the survey

Counters should note the highest number of each species of bird that are seen together at one time during that period – not the total number which enter your garden over the period of the watch.

Survey forms and a handy identification guide will be published in the JEP on Tuesday January 30th and all data received will be passed on to La Société Jersiaise to add to their records and included in Birds On The Edge bird monitoring analyses.

Completed forms can be posted in or delivered to the JEP. You can also send in your records online through this website here from the weekend.

And remember, for one weekend a year red squirrels can consider themselves birds!

Download the record form here

Study pinpoints Arctic shorebird decline and it could be our fault!

Dunlin (2). Photo by Mick DrydenFrom Rare Bird Alert

A new study addresses concerns over the many Arctic shorebird populations in precipitous decline. Evident from the study is that monitoring and protection of habitat where the birds breed, winter, and stopover is critical to their survival and to that of a global migration spectacle.

To understand why arctic shorebirds are declining and the role humans may be playing, Dr. Rebecca Bentzen of the WCS Arctic Beringia Program and her colleagues set out to quantify adult bird survival. The scientists collected and combined data across nine breeding sites in the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic in 2010–2014, engaging in unprecedented levels of collaboration as part of the Arctic Shorebird Demographic Network.

Sites included the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) and the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Six species of shorebirds were represented in the study – American golden plover, dunlin, semipalmated sandpiper, western sandpiper, red-necked phalarope, and grey phalarope.

Red-necked phalarope. Photo by Mick Dryden

Testing how ecological and human-related variables affected the adult annual survival of the birds, the scientists observed few breeding ground impacts, suggesting that shorebird declines are not currently driven by conditions experienced on the Arctic breeding grounds.

“In a positive sense, our estimates for adult survival were substantially higher than previously published across five of the six species,” said Bentzen. “This is good news; we seem to be doing the right thing in the Arctic as far as conserving these birds.”

This could change, however, with a warming and more variable climate, and oil extraction in environmentally sensitive areas such as ANWR’s coastal plain or around Teshekpuk Lake in the National Petroleum Reserve.

In addition, the study found that the survival of five species of shorebirds that migrate from breeding sites in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic to wintering areas farther south in the Americas is robust, presumably due to favourable conditions in the nesting areas along that flyway. Meanwhile, dunlin — a shorebird species that migrates to wintering areas in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway on the west side of the Pacific have poorer adult survival.

Jersey January shorebird counts 1987-2017

Are declines in Arctic shorebird counts happening in places like Jersey?

The authors surmise that loss of habitat at migratory stopovers or overwintering sites on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway are responsible for driving poorer adult survival rates and should be a focus of future conservation efforts.

Bentzen notes that the results should focus attention on habitat needs in the East Asian region. In addition, breeding grounds should be carefully monitored and protected as climate impacts and potentially development encroachment increases in and around these critical Arctic breeding habitats.

Download the paper Environmental and ecological conditions at Arctic breeding sites have limited effects on true survival rates of adult shorebirds here

Citizen scientists helping tackle puffin decline

Puffin by Romano da CostaFrom Rare Bird Alert

The RSPB’s Project Puffin has taken the first steps in solving the mystery of why some puffin colonies in the UK are in dramatic decline after scientists analysed more than 1400 photos sent in by the public, helping them to build a better picture of what these seabirds are feeding their chicks.

UK coastlines have come alive each spring with the sight, sound and smell of puffins nesting and raising their young, known as pufflings. With their bright orange bills and distinctive eye markings people from around the world visit puffin hotspots in the UK and Ireland to photograph the bustling colonies. However, in recent years puffin numbers have plummeted at some colonies, and experts estimate that without help more than half the global puffin population will disappear within the next forty years.

In the summer RSPB scientists set out to understand more about the differing fortunes of puffins around our coasts. The project aimed to capture a snapshot of what puffins are feeding their young at as many colonies as possible, as it is thought their food supply has been negatively impacted by warming seas and shifting ocean currents. By enlisting the help of the public, also known as the ‘Puffarazzi’, 1,402 photos of puffins bringing food to their chicks were sent to the team.

Atlantic puffin. Photo by Mick Dryden

The photos have helped scientists identify areas where puffins are struggling to find the large, nutritious fish needed to support their chicks. Early results suggest that the diet of puffins vary significantly around the UK – in the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland, where serious puffin declines have been seen, puffins appear to be consistently finding smaller prey compared to most other colonies.

Traditionally puffins feed on a mixture of fish, but with nutritious sandeels making up a high proportion of their diet. The photos from puffin colonies in northwest Scotland show that sandeels are making up about half of their diet compared to the two-thirds at colonies in southern Scotland, northern England and Wales.

Ellie Owen, RSPB Conservation Scientist leading the Project Puffin team, said: “puffins colourful bills and unique eye markings make them a favourite bird to photograph. The huge response to our appeal for photos has been incredible, with more than a thousand submitted. It’s taken the team of staff and volunteers more than three months to go through them all.

“For a young puffin waiting in its burrow, its life hangs on whether its parents return with enough food. An abundant supply of large, nutritious fish such as sandeels, sprats and herrings is key to healthy colonies. The public response means we’re getting data on a scale that we’ve never been able to collect before; showing what puffins are managing to find to feed their chicks around our coastline. The next stage of the project is to look more closely at the diet of puffins compared to their breeding success to pin down what part diet plays in the decline of some puffins.”

From May to August, 602 people joined the Puffarazzi, gathering 1402 photos of Puffins taking food to their chicks. Pictures came from almost 40 colonies around the UK, including those on the Farne Islands, Skomer and the Isle of May. The project is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland thanks to money raised by National Lottery players. To see more of the pictures and to learn about the RSPB’s Project Puffin, visit their website here